While a classic Martini should be mixed with vermouth, we believe that the rules were made to be broken. If you love the way that different vermouths affect your Martini and are looking for new and exciting ways to spice up the stirred classic, these vermouth substitutes are for you. From bittersweet Cocchi Americano to uber-savory umeshu—a fermented, plum-infused Japanese spirit—here are the five best vermouth substitutes for your Martini.
This aromatized wine hails from the Asti province of Italy and was created by Giulio Cocchi in 1891. Infused with cinchona bark and other botanicals—including gentian root and artemesia—Cocchi Americano is an incredibly flavorful spirit with a bright fruitiness and strong bitter backbone. In a Martini, the spirit adds viscosity and a velvety softness and gives the cocktail more depth and a honeyed, robust bitter edge on the finish. Commonly used as a substitute for Kina Lillet in a Vesper, Cocchi Americano works just as well in a straight gin or vodka Martini.
Made using a recipe that dates back to 1885, Salers is the quintessential aperitif of the Auvergne region of France. To make Salers, an aromatised wine is infused with hand-harvested gentian (a bitter, herbaceous plant indigenous to the area) and briefly mellowed in Limousin oak before being bottled. Golden in color, this aperitif has a brash bitterness with soft citrus flavors akin to lemon curd. Salers also has a distinct vegetal flavor with notes of clay, fresh pressed celery juice, artichokes (or sunchokes) and tarragon. In a Martini, Salers lends its garden bouquet and assertive bitter backbone, so we like to use it in lieu of vermouth in a Dirty Vodka Martini or in a Vodka Martini that splits the base spirit with savory mezcal.
If you’ve ever had a well-made Saketini, then you already know that the Japanese rice wine is suited for a Martini. Best of all, sake can be used as a vermouth substitute (for a ultra-dry, crisp cocktail) or as the main ingredient in the drink depending on your mood—and whether you want a stiff drink or an aperitif. When pairing sake with either gin or vodka, opt for a Junmai, Junmai Ginjo or Namazake, all of which are drier and boozier than most. If you like to use gin as the base of your Martini, make sure to use an expression that’s light on the juniper so you don’t lose all the beautiful nuances of the sake.
For fans of more savory cocktails—or the dirtiest of Martinis—this vermouth substitute is destined to become your new go-to. While most people associate sherry with the sickly sweet digestif your nonna drinks with her cats, there is more to the sherry category. When mixing up a Martini with sherry, the best bottlings to use are either Fino, Fino en Rama or Amontillado sherries, all of which tend to be dry, briny and nutty. For the best sherry Martini variation, use the Tuxedo cocktail recipe, a recently revived classic Martini that optimizes the savory beauty of Spanish sherries.
Popular in Japan and in Japanese cooking, umeboshi are fermented, salted, pickled sour plums (before they’re pickled, the sour plums are called ume). Umeshu is a liqueur traditionally made by steeping the fermented plums in shochu or sake to create a phenomenal low alcohol spirit. While most umeshu spirits made with shochu are syrupy and sweet, those created with sake are often dry, acidic and uber-savory. When used in a Martini in place of vermouth, sake-based umeshu spirits lend a beautiful florality to the cocktail and an olive brine-esque savoriness. For those who really want to go the extra mile, we suggest garnishing your umeshu Martini with a fat chunk of raw, sushi-grade fish like mackerel or tuna.